Tuesday in the 3rd Week of Lent
Daniel 3:25ff. King Nebuchadnezzar is deeply impressed by the miraculous escape of the three young Jews
Matthew 18:21ff. Within this church-related chapter in Matthew, we find the spirit of mutual forgiveness that Jesus wants to characterise relationships within his church.
Making a New Start
An integral wholeness and thorough consistency dominate these two biblical selections. Even the destruction of Israel’s life, as described here in the book of Daniel, is total. “We have in our day no prince, prophet or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favour with you.” These words of lament were uttered from the fiery furnace. All had gone up in flames! Such totality of destruction is matched by the “whole heart” with which the Lord’s servants turn back to him. “We follow you,” they declare, “unreservedly.” This conversion to the Lord begins with the admission: “we are . . . brought low . . . because of our sins.” The inspired writer does not pretend that all is well nor attempt self-justification. He tells it as it is. Earlier in the same chapter he confessed: “We have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil” (v 29). Total conversion then means an overwhelming experience of God’s “kindness and great mercy. God, however, can respond this generously only if his people are honest with themselves. To receive God’s forgiveness they must confess their sins.
Nor is this consistent and integral unity to be splintered by a lonely, self-righteous attempt to be saved individually, independent of the community. It seems that the prophet Daniel might have struck out on his own. He could have been saved more quickly and efficiently if he had not been caught within the web of community sin and guilt. However, this chosen people Israel, which was riddled with sin and guilt, was also the source of each individual’s hope. From the community the inspired author absorbed life with its hopes beyond hope, that they would be “like the stars of heaven.” Here he appeals to community tradition as he prays to the Lord: “For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant
Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
and Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one.
Part of the totality of this prayer appears in the sense of shame that he also expresses. In the verse immediately preceding today’s liturgical selection the prophet confessed: “We . . . have become a shame and a reproach” (v 33). Such an honest confession of human experience is healthy. There is, nonetheless, another sort of shame which is not good. Again this writer begs of God: “Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.” This second kind of shame is harmful for it rejects the remembrance of God’s love and has no roots of human dignity.
Just as Daniel and his companions found their lives and their hope integrally within the people of God, the entire community, likewise the parable of Jesus extends this need of consistent wholeness. The forgiveness which is received from God must reach out from us to all our brothers and sisters. “Should you not have dealt mercifully with your fellow servant,” the heavenly Father declares, “as I dealt with you?”. What we receive from God, makes us to be who we are; we cannot remain who we are unless we give it all away “unreservedly.” The gift from God most difficult to share and bestow upon another is forgiveness; yet, this gift is precisely the one of which all of us stand most in need.
By giving we receive, and thus an integral wholeness and thorough consistency of all of us with one another and with God are accomplished. In Lent we seek forgiveness from God, but on the way we also seek to be reconciled with brother and sister.
First Reading: Daniel 3:25, 34-43
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, within the province of Babylon.
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”